Shopping for quality child care? There are things you can do to become a better consumer of quality child care and at the same time help your children by providing the very best in caregiving, according to LSU AgCenter specialist Dr. Becky White.
"Research has highlighted the importance of the role early caregivers of children play in their development," White stresses. "With more and more parents working and the need for child care increasing, parents need to plan carefully for quality child care for their children."
The LSU AgCenter expert says to try these steps when attempting to find quality child care:
- Become aware of child-care options. Several choices are available for parents when it comes to child care. Child-care centers, drop-in care, family child-care home providers, in-home providers, Head Start and public and private school preschool programs are alternatives that parents can consider. Check the phonebook and classified newspaper ads for child-care options to consider.
- Know your own priorities. Parents need to consider what would work best for their families and their children. Do you prefer a provider coming into your home to care for your children? Do you want your children to be in a center where they can develop social relationships with children their age and with adults? Is a child-care arrangement located near your home critical for your family? Do you prefer a family member or close friend who shares similar values to be the one to care for your children? Is cost a major concern? Parents need to decide what is most important.
- Seek information about reputation. It is critical to find out if the child-care options you are considering are reputable. Ask neighbors, friends, relatives, other parents and community experts about the reputability of the child-care options you are interested in. Personal references are invaluable for parents in this critical decision. In addition, many communities have resource and referral centers and hotlines that can help parents with information about quality child-care options.
- Conduct interviews by phone first. This approach can save time and energy and can narrow your search. Ask questions about availability, location, hours of operation, costs and quality (registered, licensed or accredited). Avoid calling at critical times (lunch, early morning or late afternoon) to get the best responses from centers and home providers.
- For out-of-home options, visit several child-care sites. After narrowing your options to a few choices, visit the child-care sites. Be prepared to spend some time at the site and expect a warm reception, a brief tour, short introductions to adults and children, explanations about policies and fees, and an invitation to stay and observe the routine of the site and the children playing. Be prepared to take notes during each site visit about what you see and hear. These notes will help you make your choice later.
- For in-home options, interview providers. After narrowing them to a few choices, interview potential in-home providers in your home setting. Be prepared with a list of questions about availability, hours, transportation, fees, references and their approaches to care for children. Take notes for each interview.
- Check references. This is a critical step for parents to take to ensure quality care for their children. Positive references are a powerful endorsement.
- Kid test your top contenders. Come back to the center, or invite final candidates to your home for a visit with your children. Notice how the caregivers and your children interact and if your children seem comfortable with the caregivers and the environment.
- Make your decision. If there is no space available at your first choice, be sure to get on a waiting list. Putting yourself on a waiting list almost guarantees you will get in at some point. Or you could ask the provider to recommend another similar place. In the meantime (if on a waiting list), arrange for interim care until a spot becomes available.
The LSU AgCenter’s "Be Child Care Aware!" educational program is designed to educate parents and child-care providers about quality child care. It is funded, in part, through a contract with the Louisiana Department of Social Services’ Office of Family Support.